Quick look: NASA’s Mars MAVEN mission

NASA mission is first to explore upper atmosphere of red planet

NASA's Mars

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN is set to blast into space this week for a 10-month trip and ultimate meeting with the Mars atmosphere. The main idea behind the mission – the first to examine the upper atmosphere of the red planet -- is to examine how the sun may have stripped Mars of most of its atmosphere, “turning a planet once possibly habitable to microbial life into a cold and barren desert world” NASA says.  Specifically scientists want to know what happened to the water and where the planet’s thick atmosphere went.

NASA's Mars
Credit: Reuters

Illustrated factbox on NASA’s new Mars 37.5 foot long, 5,600 pound orbiter.  MAVEN was built by Lockheed Martin and is solar-powered, with a high-gain antenna that can be pointed to Earth for twice-weekly communications sessions.

NASA's Mars

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying MAVEN.

NASA's Mars
Credit: REUTERS/Joe Skipper

An Atlas V United Launch Alliance rocket carrying NASA's MAVEN spacecraft, is readied for launch at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

NASA's Mars

NASA’s MAVEN being locked onto the Atlas rocket that will blast it into space.

NASA's Mars

At NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, engineers run tests between the MAVEN, spacecraft and MIL-71. The control room is the Kennedy interface with the Deep Space Network, or DSN. This compatibility test with MAVEN will verify that the spacecraft will be able to relay data back through the DSN interfaces during its mission to the Red Planet.

NASA's Mars
Credit: REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Image of technicians working on NASA's MAVEN.

NASA's Mars

The MAVEN spacecraft will make measurements in all regions of “near-Mars” space. These measurements will allow scientists to characterize the current state of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere.

NASA's Mars

Here technicians deploy the Solar Wind Electron Analyzer boom on MAVEN. The analyzer will measure the solar wind and electrons in the ionosphere of the red planet.

NASA's Mars

MAVEN will carry three instrument suites. The Particles and Fields Package (PFP), provided by the University of California at Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory, contains six instruments that characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet. Here we see the Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer (NGIMS) measures the composition and isotopes of thermal neutrals and ions.

NASA's Mars

At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, technicians install the parabolic high gain antenna onto the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN spacecraft, in the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility. The antenna will communicate vast amounts of data to Earth during the mission.

NASA's Mars

The Particles and Fields Package (PFP), provided by the University of California at Berkeley Space Sciences Laboratory, contains six instruments that characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet. Here we see the  Langmuir Probe and Waves antenna which measure plasma waves in space.

NASA's Mars
Credit: YouTube.com

An artists conception of the MAVEN spacecraft in orbit around Mars.